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March 12, 1964Guggenhiem MuseumFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, on February 21, 1907. He moved to Birmingham during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. As a young man he was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

In 1928, his collection Poems was privately printed, but it wasn't until 1930, when another collection titled Poems (though its contents were different) was published, that Auden was established as the leading voice of a new generation.

Ever since, he has been admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and an ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; the incorporation in his work of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information. He had a remarkable wit, and often mimicked the writing styles of other poets such as Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry James. His poetry frequently recounts, literally or metaphorically, a journey or quest, and his travels provided rich material for his verse.

He visited Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war, and in 1939 moved to the United States, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman, and became an American citizen. His own beliefs changed radically between his youthful career in England, when he was an ardent advocate of socialism and Freudian psychoanalysis, and his later phase in America, when his central preoccupation became Christianity and the theology of modern Protestant theologians. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist, editor, and essayist. Generally considered the greatest English poet of the twentieth century, his work has exerted a major influence on succeeding generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic.

W. H. Auden served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1954 to 1973, and divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New York City and Austria. He died in Vienna on September 29, 1973.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems (Random House, 1976)
Thank You, Fog: Last Poems (Random House, 1974)
Epistle to a Godson (Faber and Faber, 1972)
Academic Graffiti (Faber and Faber, 1971)
City Without Walls and Other Poems (Random House, 1969)
Collected Longer Poems (Random House, 1968)
Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 (Faber and Faber, 1966)
About the House (Random House, 1965)
Homage to Clio (Faber and Faber, 1960)
Selected Poetry (1956)
The Old Man's Road (Voyages Press,1956)
The Shield of Achilles (Random House, 1955)
Nones (Random House, 1951)
Collected Shorter Poems 1930-1944 (Faber and Faber, 1950)
The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (Random House, 1947)
The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (Random House, 1945)
For the Time Being (Random House, 1944)
The Sea and the Mirror (1944)
The Double Man (Random House, 1941)
The Quest (1941)
Another Time (Random House,1940)
Selected Poems (Faber and Faber, 1938)
Spain (Faber and Faber, 1937)
Look, Stranger! (Faber and Faber, 1936)
The Orators (Faber and Faber, 1932)
Poems (1930)
Poems (privately printed, 1928)

Prose

Forewords and Afterwords (Random House, 1973)
Selected Essays (Faber and Faber, 1964)
The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (Random House, 1962)
The Enchaféd Flood (Random House, 1950)
Journey to a War (Faber and Faber, 1939)
Letters from Iceland (Random House, 1937)

Anthology

Selected Poems by Gunnar Ekelöf (1972)

Drama

On the Frontier (1938)
The Ascent of F.6 (Faber and Faber, 1936)
The Dog Beneath the Skin: or, Where is Francis? (Faber and Faber, 1935)
The Dance of Death (Faber and Faber, 1933)
Paid On Both Sides (1928)
 

On the Circuit

W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973
Among pelagian travelers,
Lost on their lewd conceited way
To Massachusetts, Michigan,
Miami or L.A.,

An airborne instrument I sit,
Predestined nightly to fulfill
Columbia-Giesen-Management's
Unfathomable will,

By whose election justified,
I bring my gospel of the Muse
To fundamentalists, to nuns,
to Gentiles and to Jews,

And daily, seven days a week,
Before a local sense has jelled,
From talking-site to talking-site
Am jet-or-prop-propelled.

Though warm my welcome everywhere,
I shift so frequently, so fast,
I cannot now say where I was 
The evening before last,

Unless some singular event
Should intervene to save the place,
A truly asinine remark,
A soul-bewitching face,

Or blessed encounter, full of joy,
Unscheduled on the Giesen Plan,
With, here, an addict of Tolkien,
There, a Charles Williams fan.

Since Merit but a dunghill is,
I mount the rostrum unafraid:
Indeed, 'twere damnable to ask
If I am overpaid.

Spirit is willing to repeat
Without a qualm the same old talk,
But Flesh is homesick for our snug
Apartment in New York.

A sulky fifty-six, he finds
A change of mealtime utter hell,
Grown far too crotchety to like
A luxury hotel.

The Bible is a goodly book
I always can peruse with zest,
But really cannot say the same
For Hilton's Be My Guest.

Nor bear with equanimity
The radio in students' cars,
Muzak at breakfast, or--dear God!--
Girl-organists in bars.

Then, worst of all, the anxious thought,
Each time my plane begins to sink
And the No Smoking sign comes on:
What will there be to drink?

Is this a milieu where I must
How grahamgreeneish!  How infra dig!
Snatch from the bottle in my bag 
An analeptic swig?

Another morning comes: I see,
Dwindling below me on the plane,
The roofs of one more audience
I shall not see again.

God bless the lot of them, although
I don't remember which was which:
God bless the U.S.A., so large,
So friendly, and so rich.

From About the House by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1965 by W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

From About the House by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1965 by W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden was admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; his incorporation of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech in his work; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information.

by this poet

poem
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
poem
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
poem

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far